The Joseph Henry Papers

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In 1954, the National Historical Publications Commission put Joseph Henry on a list of great Americans whose papers were considered most worthy of publication. The commission recognized the nation's neglect of its scientific heritage, to which Henry made an indispensable contribution.

In 1966, three of the country's foremost institutions of learning--the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Smithsonian Institution--launched and became co-sponsors of the Joseph Henry Papers Project. It was then and remains now the only documentary editing project to focus on the life of an American scientist.

Photograph of staff
Staff of Joseph Henry Papers Project.
From left: Kathleen W. Dorman, Deborah Y. Jeffries,
Frank R. Millikan, and Marc Rothenberg.
Photo by Hugh Talman.

Initially under the editorship of Nathan Reingold, the project mounted a world-wide search for Henry documents to supplement those already held by the Smithsonian. The project, now under the editorship of Marc Rothenberg, has obtained copies of Henry documents from some 300 repositories in 17 nations. The staff has identified some 110,000 Henry documents and has developed a computerized index to a majority of these, so that researchers may conduct searches by subject, name, and date.

The staff has also selected and annotated some of the most important documents for publication in The Papers of Joseph Henry (Smithsonian Institution Press). Eight volumes have been published thus far, covering Henry's life through 1853. The volumes are described in a separate section (where ordering information is also available). The sample documents will also give you an idea of what is in the volumes.

Aside from editing the Papers of Joseph Henry, the project encourages researchers to visit our office and utilize our resources. These have been used by researchers in such varied fields as the history of art, science, technology, politics, and architecture. Our resources are detailed in a separate section.

During the summer, the project staff trains college interns in the techniques of historical research, with an emphasis on the history of science. See internships for further information.

Finally, the project seeks in a number of ways, such as preparing materials for public exhibits and for use in schools, to further disseminate knowledge about Henry and about the history of the Smithsonian Institution. The section on Henry is one example of our attempt to reach a broad public audience. It provides an introduction to various facets of Henry's career and to his extensive legacy. Be sure to also take a look at the articles on Henry's contributions to the telegraph, the electric motor, and the telephone. For things named after Henry, see the namesakes section. Also take a look at the Henry chronology and at our selection of Henry quotations.

To carry out the activities of the project, we welcome your ideas and support, both moral and financial. One simple way to help the project is to tell us how you located our Web site and what you used it for (contact Marc Rothenberg). Please see below in this section other ways you can support us.

For information about other documentary editing projects, you can leave this site and visit the home pages of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Association for Documentary Editing. For more on the history of science, see the Distinguished Members Gallery of the National Academy of Sciences and the History Center of the American Institute of Physics.

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